On the final day of January, Lawrentians checking their inboxes were treated to an email from President Mark Burstein announcing that “The full-time tuition for the 2014–15 academic year has been set at $42,357 […] this brings the total comprehensive fee to $51,465,” meaning a “3.5 percent increase in tuition and a 3.51 percent increase in the total comprehensive fee for next year.”
When four years at Lawrence University now cost more than $200,000, it’s hard to imagine a more inflammatory subject to students than tuition hikes, and for good reason. However, before students grab their pitchforks and head towards Sampson House, they should consider the greater implications and challenges of running a private educational institution like Lawrence.
Higher education is a financially demanding endeavor: Costs abound not only in obvious places—like professor’s salaries, insurance, healthcare and research costs—but also in far less obvious ways, from heating during the cold Wisconsin winters to expensive academic journals and other library resources. None of these resources can be eliminated or even slimmed down; they are all necessary to the core function of our university.
Even leading higher education experts don’t seem to be able to agree on the primary reasons for tuition hikes far exceeding inflation rates. In October of 2013, The Wall Street Journal interviewed three such experts, and the only conclusion they seemed to share was that this was, indeed, a problem.
Compounding this problem is the decrease in available financial aid for higher education, which has severely decreased in the wake of the 2008 international economic recession. As tuition increases and financial aid decreases, we face an even greater price increase, leading to a structure that favors the rich over the majority and making education the luxury it never should be.
None of these problems are simple or easy to solve. However, we must endeavor to work and solve them not only as Lawrentians, but as members of a greater community. Everyone deserves access to the kind of education Lawrence provides, but this can only happen if we strive to find solutions to fund private institutions like Lawrence on an increasingly global landscape.